In 1965, fully 100 years after the death of the Confederacy, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, at long last enshrining into federal law the right of all Americans to participate fully and equally in the political process.
The following year, Barack Obama, then a wide-eyed Kindergartener who was suddenly free to dream bigger dreams than his forebears, wrote an essay entitled “I Want to Become President.”
And now the Clinton Machine is attacking him for it.
This past Sunday, Hillary Clinton—faced with the very real possibility that she will lose the Iowa caucuses and, more damningly, the inevitability that has fueled her effort—used a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to declare open season on Mr. Obama, whose has committed the unpardonable sin of not surrendering to her ambition.
“Now,” Mrs. Clinton announced, “the fun part starts.”
Hours later, her campaign unleashed a personal attack on Mr. Obama, responding to his oft-repeated assertion that he is “not running to fulfill some long-held plans”—a not-so-subtle effort to contrast himself with the Clintons.
The Clinton reaction to a relatively mild dig was both inflated and disingenuous—and a strong hint of what’s to come now that Mrs. Clinton’s political standing is shaky.
In a press release, Mrs. Clinton’s attack-dog spokesman Phil Singer accused Mr. Obama of “rewriting history” and “not telling the truth,” charging that the Illinois senator has, in effect, been laying the groundwork for his current campaign from his days as a Kindergartener.
This is silly stuff.
What is proved, precisely, by Mr. Obama’s Kindergarten essay—or by a similar essay, also cited by the Clinton campaign, that he wrote in third grade? Go to any elementary school in the country and you’ll find all sorts of kids who will gladly tell you that they will someday be a movie star, a famous astronaut, an N.F.L. quarterback, and—yes—President of the United States.
Obviously, Mr. Obama has entertained thoughts of being president for years, long after his days of youthful daydreaming had passed. (The Clinton campaign also pointed to a report that he talked about running for president when he was in law school, and another that he began planning his bid shortly after being elected to the Senate.) And clearly he’s made choices in his life, time and again, that have preserved the possibility of a future campaign. Now his opportunity has arrived, and he’s going for it.
That hardly constitutes ruthless ambition and scheming, and Mrs. Clinton should know it.
For one thing, her husband basically set the standard on that score, having prodded an ROTC officer at age 23 to help keep him out of Vietnam so that—in Bill Clinton’s famous words—he might “preserve [his] political viability within the system.” There’s also the irony that Mrs. Clinton would accuse Mr. Obama of “revising history” just days after Mr. Clinton, in a transparent ploy to curry favor with anti-war Democrats, claimed that he opposed the war in Iraq “from the beginning.”
Mrs. Clinton, don’t forget, has spent this campaign claiming the high ground. Just weeks ago, she declared, “I’m not interested in attacking my opponents. I’m interested in attacking the problems of America.” She also cleverly chastised her opponents for using “Republican talking points” against her.
But now she’s turning her guns on Mr. Obama and authoring anti-Obama talking points that the G.O.P. will happily borrow should he emerge as the nominee.
It was easy to see this day coming. Fifteen years ago, Bill and Hillary found their path to Democratic nomination unexpectedly blocked by Paul Tsongas. They tried playing fair and lost New Hampshire. Then they started hitting below the belt.
In the run-up to the critical Florida primary, for example, Mr. Clinton cited a bogus Senate vote from the early 1980s to accuse Tsongas of not supporting Israel. It certainly helped that Mr. Clinton had much more money to make the charge than Tsongas had to defend himself against it. Predictably, Mr. Clinton won Florida.
Now, it’s Mr. Obama’s turn. Rest assured, the Kindergarten attack is mild compared to what the Clinton Machine will churn out over the next two months, or for as long as Mr. Obama poses a threat to Mrs. Clinton’s chances of winning the nomination.
In 1992, Tsongas had neither the money nor the organization to fight back. But Mr. Obama has both.